On Wednesday, we have been giving updates on a very important time for Rutgers football. The early period for prospects to sign their National Letter of Intent began on Dec. 16. For high school players, the early period ends on Dec. 18. For players who did not want to sign early, they will have to wait until Feb. 3, 2021. It is safe to say that day one was a good one for Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights were able to get 22 prospects and one transfer signed on day one, many from the Garden State. The 2020 season was a confusing one from the start with the current situation surrounding the pandemic, but Rutgers was able to get all games completed. In the midst of the season, coaches were given the extra burden of recruiting and getting through the early signing period. With day one in the books, it is as good a time as any to look back at who signed to be a Scarlet Knight in the future.
It is impossible to give a grade when a certain position does not sign. Sometimes, it could be viewed as an “F” if a team ignores a certain position, especially the most important on the field, but that is not the case here. Let’s remember that this year will not count towards any player’s eligibility so any quarterback on the Scarlet Knights’ roster could return for the 2021 season.
Noah Vedral won the job at the beginning of the season but Rutgers is full of quarterbacks with experience. Both Artur Sitkowski and Johnny Langan have played significant roles this season. We have not seen Cole Snyder or Evan Simon in 2020 but they are quarterbacks that Greg Schiano feels good about moving forward. Quarterback is the most important position on a football team and Rutgers clearly feels good about their current standing.
Running Back (C)
Signed: Al-Shadee Salaam
Salaam is an extremely explosive player. He has great speed in the open field and can stop on a dime when making cuts. Salaam is a bit undersized but he plays much bigger. Running back is a position where prospects can come in and make an impact right away. Salaam seems like that kind of player, if he is played at running back.
Salaam was a force on both sides of the ball while in high school. He played in the secondary at East Orange but could be used in the backfield for the Scarlet Knights. The running back groups was one of the top this season for Rutgers. Isaih Pacheco was the lead back but the Scarlet Knights also used Kay’Ron Adams, along with Vedral and Langan. This rating is ultimately a “C+” because of the quantity and uncertainty where Salaam will end up playing.
Wide Receiver (B)
Signed: Carnell Davis, Max Patterson, Brayden Fox, Zach Goodale
Speed, speed, speed. Rutgers is getting faster year by year. Davis is a excellent get for this Scarlet Knights’ offense. He will be enrolling early which means the staff will have time to work with their new weapon. Davis is an aggressive receiver with great speed. Fox is quick out of his breaks and is more of a possession receiver with great size. Both Goodale and Patterson are projected to play in the slot.
The job that Sean Gleeson and Tiquan Underwood have done with the receiving corps this season is undeniable. Bo Melton has turned into a legitimate star in the Big Ten. Shaheen Jones finished second on the team in receiving and Aron Cruickshank was even used within the offense. The Scarlet Knights have the perfect staff to develop receivers. Heading into the 2021 season, Rutgers will have plenty of receivers to develop.
Tight End (D)
Signed: Shawn Munnerlyn
Rutgers has 13 catches from tight ends this season. They were primarily used as blockers this season but that could change moving forward with Munnerlyn. At 6’5, Munnerlyn takes long strides with the ball in his hands and has a huge catch radius. Moving forward, it will all be about how Rutgers plans to utilize him. There could be some growing pains for a young tight end in this offense. If Munnerlyn can block effectively and get off the line, there is a chance for him to contribute at the next level.
Offensive Line (C+)
Signed: Tyler Needham, Gus Zilinskas, Kevin Toth Jr.
Needham has an extremely high-ceiling for the Scarlet Knights. He was the 23rd ranked lineman in Pennsylvania and could turn into an extremely productive left tackle. Zilinskas comes to New Brunswick from Englewood, Colorado. Zilinskas has been familiar with the coaching staff which is how the two sides became connected. There is no doubt that the Scarlet Knights are happy to have him. Zilinskas is a physical player so there is a chance for him to fill out and product along the line. Toth Jr. is the biggest of the group at 6’6 and plays up to his size.
The offensive line was a huge concern for Rutgers heading into the season. They performed beyond expectations which was huge for the offense and important moving forward. Now, it is about adding depth and keeping it around. It is important to bring in new faces ever year when recruiting. In 2021, the Scarlet Knights have three signed and all three could develop into rotation players within the program.
Defensive Line (A)
Signed: Ryan Keeler, Keshon Griffin, Henry Hughes, Cam’Ron Stewart, Zaire Angoy, Jordan Thompson, Kyonte Hamilton
Schiano has said many times that he believes the defensive line is the second most important position on the field. Actions speak louder than words when looking at this recruiting class after his first season back as Rutgers’ head coach. The defensive line for the Scarlet Knights needed a boost coming into the season. They were able to get strong play from Mike Tverdov and Michael Dwumfour. This is a unit that has struggled to get to the quarterback in recent years.
That is hopefully going to change with this class coming in. Rutgers recruited defensive lineman with speed who could get to the quarterback. Keeler and Griffin were two elite prospects with plenty of offers. Prospects like Angoy, Stewart, and Hughes will have a hand in stopping the rushing attack. In the Big Ten, games are won and lost in the trenches. It is all about getting the opposing team’s quarterback and winning the line of scrimmage. If Rutgers is able to stop the run, it would be a huge win in the conference.
This is a recruiting class that will develop into impact playmakers across the line. They are the lone “A” on the report card. That is not to discredit the other units. This grade is all about the depth added and the ceilings that they have in the program.
Signed: Khayri Banton, Austin Dean
Banton is a four-star recruit that Rutgers was able to land back in May. He is an incredible talent with the speed of a defensive back. Banton is explosive enough to rush the passer and knows how to finish a tackle. This is similar to Dean. The Tampa, Florida product has played mainly defensive end in high school but fits in well with the linebacking core at Rutgers. Both players have a chance to develop under Robb Smith and Bob Fraser and become key defensive pieces in another year or two.
Rutgers has plenty of experience at linebacker. Tyshon Fogg and Olakunle Fatukasi will most likely test the NFL waters following the season but could choose to return. This blanket year of eligibility will allow Rutgers to get some key members of the defense back. This group will benefit from joining the Scarlet Knights, even if they have to wait a year to get on the field frequently. Both Smith and Fraser have a history developing talent that is effective at the next level.
Defensive Backs (B)
Signed: Alijah Clark, Desmond Igbinosun, Shaquan Loyal
The defensive backs group is one of the more interesting ones that signed day one. Clark was one of two four-star players Rutgers was able to sign early. At the high school level at Camden, he was a star. Clark showed every week his willingness to tackle, which was a huge factor in taking his game to the next level. It continues with the 6’3 Igbinosun. The Union product was a two-way player in high school which could make for a battle over his collegiate position. Igbinosun is expected to be a safety for the Scarlet Knights but also is an intriguing option at running back.
The unit for the Scarlet Knights in 2020 was very top-heavy. Tre Avery and Christian Izien set the tone at the top. Depth was a concern early on but the unit improved each week as the season went on. With a bit of uncertainty heading into next season, there is a possibility that the Scarlet Knights will look for some help from true freshman in the secondary.
Signed: Joshua Youngblood, Zack Taylor
Taylor has a connection to Rutgers with his brother, Billy, being the current long snapper for the team. Zack, who played primarily offensive line in high school, is rated as the No. 1 long snapper in the nation, according to 247Sports. He will follow his brothers footsteps to the banks as the newcomer on special teams.
Youngblood is a Kansas State transfer and the first official signing that was announced Wednesday morning. He is an All-American kick returner and someone who will bring plenty of speed to the special teams unit. There is a feeling that Youngblood will be more than that. Just look at what Gleeson turned Cruickshank into this season. Youngblood could take over the same role as a receiver within the offense along with being an elite special teams’ player.
Overall Day One Grade: B
Recruiting is a wild game where programs fight for players to come to their schools because of what they do on the field and the atmosphere around campus. The 2020 season almost did not happen. For Rutgers, it is better that it did. Who would have thought we would be saying that?
The Scarlet Knights showed toughness and aggressive instilled by Schiano from day one. They finished their eight-game schedule prior to Championship Week with wins over Michigan State, Purdue, and Maryland. Rutgers also suffered a last second loss to Illinois and a triple-overtime defeat at the hands of Michigan. Prospects have had their eyes on Rutgers and it paid off on day one.
This is a testament to the job Schiano has done but he could not do it alone. Gleeson with the offense, Underwood with the receivers, Fran Brown (secondary) and Augie Hoffman (running backs) have coached their positions well but have also been some of Rutgers’ top recruiters. They have all had a hand in improving the program.
Now that some prospects have put the pen to paper, it is time to get to work. The staff will continue to recruit other prospects and develop the ones they have right now. Signing two four-star players and a handful of three-stars has Rutgers trending in the right direction.